Unconscious Incompetence

“Sure, I can do that!”

These are the words of someone who believes that they are competent enough to accomplish a task or set of tasks.  Whether or not their confidence is based upon personal experience or if it is wishful thinking will need to be determined by the performance and outcome of the person.

I recently experienced this dilemma in my own life.

I love to cook.  Over the years I have become fairly proficient in doing so in my kitchen.  Give me the recipe and the tools I will need and I believe I can approximate the desired outcome most of the time.chef

So, of course, working in a restaurant should be a natural next step;  a piece of cake!

When I found a restaurant that was willing to give me a chance I leaped at the opportunity, ready to go.

Wow!  Was I surprised!

Rather, I discovered that the Swedish Chef and I had a great deal in common!  In the swedish-chefprocess of struggling to remember stuff it was easy to become flustered, helping me realize that it is one thing to rapid-slice cucumbers for a salad for two people and quite another matter when  prepping massive quantities using someone else’s recipe in someone else’s kitchen!  The tasks required a completely different set of skills that I had not fully appreciated…until I tried to do it.

It reminded me of the four stages of competence that come with learning a new skill as referenced via Wikipaedia:


  1. Unconscious incompetence
    The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage.[2] The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.[3]
  2. Conscious incompetence
    Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.[4]
  3. Conscious competence
    The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.[3]
  4. Unconscious competence
    The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

The key is being persistent until stage 4 is achieved.

Here is the point.  The biggest room in anyone’s personal house is the room for improvement.  When one of those ‘rooms’ is discovered, it is important that there may be a learning curve that begins with an uninformed sense of competency that is, in actuality, an unconscious incompetence.  Whether it is simple areas of learning such as the skills involved in being thoughtful and courteous all the way to fundamental communication skills to deal with conflict….

There is always a learning curve to be conquered, a skill to be mastered, a task to perform.  The speed at which people can more through these four stages of competence depends upon many things.   At times there may be great advantages to learning a new skill by employing the service of a Marriage and Family Therapist who can assess the interpersonal needs, help people devise a strategy for accomplishing their task, and move quickly to the goal, stage 4, unconscious competence.